What MP Mahua Moitra’s Louis Vuitton hubbub in parliament says about aspiration and resentment

As someone who almost never questioned Carrie Bradshaw’s fashion choices, I was shaken by my nonchalance after the movie Sex and the City (SATC) in 2008. Carrie offers a handbag of 4 $500 to his black assistant Louise. It’s a Louis Vuitton, a “Motard Firebird”, which debuted that year. Louise already has an LV — only, it’s a rental. When she opens the gift, she can’t believe her eyes. “My own Louis Vuitton? she exclaims.
If there’s one purse that should have been tucked away, this is it. It’s an interrogative palette of purple, coral, and yellow, compounded by embellishments that burst like ulcers. But, as SATC pointed out, even a garish Louis Vuitton is timeless.

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A Louis Vuitton has been a symbol of aspiration for quite some time now. Filmmaker Karan Johar’s NRI, globetrotting tracks are often shown with a Louis Vuitton in tow as part of the upper-class Indian fantasy that Johar sells. However, this is not far from reality. Louis Vuitton is one of the 10 most valuable brands in the world (Forbes ranks it at number 9), mainly due to its emphasis on handmade, limited editions, durability and changing inventory. It is also one of the most visible luxury brands due to its distinct brown “monogram canvas”. The pattern of intertwined initials and flowers inspired by Japanese designs makes the monogram easy to identify, even by those untrained in fashion– identification. That’s why accusing a deputy like Mahua Moitra to “hide” a Louis Vuitton during recent parliamentary discussions on inflation and rising prices is easy because the monogram is too obvious. It looks like a luxury car. He is not afraid to be himself. In comparison, it is less easy to identify, for example, a Chanel handbag or Maybach sunglasses.

Louis Vuitton products. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Louis Vuitton’s monogram pattern may run counter to everything we’ve been taught about good taste. Growing up, we are told that it is shameful to display one’s blessings; that a sober design is a mark of sophistication. We want a luxury product, but we don’t want it to scream the brand name. A monogram pattern – the idea of ​​a name being dabbed over and over again – would seem morally repugnant.

Or so, we are told. The Louis Vuitton monogram was registered in 1896, about four decades after the brand was created, to prevent counterfeits. The pattern reinforced Louis Vuitton’s luxury status, but its synonymy with the brand led to the business of replicas and “true fakes” across the world. Suddenly, it seemed like the aspiration wasn’t so much to own the bag as the pattern.

Even today, Louis Vuitton lookalikes proliferate on street markets in India. Other brands have taken inspiration from Louis Vuitton’s logo-fication and come up with their own monogrammed designs. The monogram has become a luxury power-Pad craze, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi sporting a suit monogrammed with his name. In 2015, at 4.31 crores, it became the world’s most expensive suit ever sold at auction.

BT Advertisement for Louis Vuitton luggage, 1898. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Monogrammed Louis Vuittons were such a massive aspiration that they became commonplace, either as originals, pre-loved, or counterfeits. Over the previous decade, Louis Vuitton moved away from its logo hand bags to reduce brand dilution by counterfeits, among other reasons. Ten years ago, a court dismissed Louis Vuitton’s lawsuit against Warner Bros. for using counterfeit bags in their movie Hangover Part II.

In a world of counterfeits, Moitra’s handbag, perhaps a Grand Palais, is, fortunately, an original. This is not the first time a female politician has been mentioned in the context of her handbag. Former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati has installed statues of herself across the state, with several carrying a handbag. As much as her statue-frenzy has been criticized, so has the bag aroused mistrust. Is it a Birkin? Is it a Prada? Should a Dalit politician carry a handbag? What could all of this mean?

The handbag, as a feminine hiding place of secrets, is often seen as a place to keep illicit items – lipsticks, sanitary napkins, antidepressants, birth control pills and who knows what else. The patriarchy loves to demean femininity when all other barbs fail, and the handbag is a last resort. Yet there is a lesson to be learned from the late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, whose “handbag became the scepter of her reign”, according to her official biography. When she berated his firm, he coined the phrase “purse,” a word now used to refer to women who ruthlessly and verbally crush people. It’s like when Moitra hit back at her critics with a jumble of pictures of her purse in a tweet that read, ‘Jholewala fakir in parliament since 2019’, a throwback to when the prime minister described his humble origins . Nothing like a faithful Louis Vuitton to make a good old handbag!

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